Bernie: Marty's Back in Town

Bernie remembers Marty Schottenheimer fondly as his old coach returns to Cleveland. Schottenheimer's Chargers play the Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium this Sunday at 1PM.

My old head coach comes to town this week.

Memories of Marty are fresh in my mind so let's welcome him back, celebrate his reign and offer a few stories about Marty and me.

Marty Schottenheimer cut his NFL head coaching teeth in Cleveland with the Browns. I was his young quarterback. Together, we won the AFC Central Division title our first three years. We made the playoffs the first four years and twice played in the AFC Championship Game. I don't know of many rookie combinations that can match that mark. Think about it. Marty was a rookie head coach in 1985 and I was his rookie starting quarterback.

I always respected Marty's attention to detail and his discipline. To be successful in football, or life for that matter, you have to have both and Marty was a master. He and his staff actually worked too hard. By Sunday, they were all exhausted. Maybe he has cut back on his work ethic at this point in his career. I doubt it. It makes game day adjustments tougher when you are burnt out and exhausted.

It's been nearly 20 years since Marty and I broke in together. Funny thing, it doesn't seem that long. We were only together for four years but those four years probably seemed like 40 to Marty. I think I probably annoyed him more than once or twice.

In 1986, we won the Central, beat the New York Jets in the playoffs in two overtimes (you remember that game don't you?) and played Denver in the AFC Championship Game. Our 12-4 regular-season record earned us home field throughout the playoffs so the Championship Game was to be played at Cleveland Stadium. It was January. It was bitter cold and the wind was howling. It was Cleveland.

Marty took the team to Vero Beach, Fla. to practice during the week leading up to the Denver game. He wanted to get in a good week of practice and felt that the warm conditions of Florida would be a perfect fit. I was against it from the start. So what if it's miserable in Cleveland. It's miserable and that's what it was going to like when we played on Sunday.

I felt, and still feel, it was important to practice in the conditions that you were going to play in. I always wanted to practice in the worst conditions. I felt that made Sunday easier. Marty didn't agree. We fought over the decision. We fought a lot about it. I felt so strongly, I just wouldn't let up. The conditions were ours to take advantage of and the muddy, or in some cases frozen, field was like a trusted friend. The slippery feel of a cold ball would be to our benefit. My passing statistics in games during the cold days of December and January at the Stadium weren't always the best but, most of the time, they were better than the other quarterback who played that day.

I always felt I had the upper hand, even if it was a cold one. The cold presents unique challenges. It allows for a whole different way of throwing, catching, running, protecting and tackling. It demands that you be ready to adjust. Cold weather dictates play. I've always told you that football, in my eyes, is a game of mismatches. The cold offers a mismatch.

Marty finally got tired of listening to me lobby and brought us home one day early to workout at the Stadium. One day was better than none.

The following year, we were back in the AFC Championship game. This time the game was in Denver. Marty took the team to New Mexico the week leading up to the game so we could get used to playing in conditions we would encounter during the game. He wanted us to get used to the altitude. I liked that approach for the same reasons I wanted to practice in Cleveland the year before. I just thought it was the best way to approach the game.

That 1987 Championship game with Denver reminds me of another Marty story.

Lindy Infante was Marty's offensive coordinator. Lindy enjoyed the reputation, in his post-coaching years in Cleveland, as being a wide-open, offensive minded coach. The truth is, Lindy was incredibly conservative and never wanted his quarterback to audible. In time, Lindy, Gary Danielson, and myself became a highly effective offensive trio. Lindy changed because Gary and I literally filibustered him into insanity. We were relentlessly boisterous with our opinions on the offense. As a matter of fact, heading into that '87 Championship game, Marty, Lindy and I had some very deep differences of opinion on our offensive game plan.

Late in the second quarter, we were running the plays the coaches wanted and the Broncos were beating us 21-3. I felt that we had reached a make or break moment in time. If we were going to have a chance to compete, we were going to have to change our approach. I couldn't wait until halftime to share my frustrations, so with Marty and Lindy on one side and Gary and I on the other, we had it out. Finally, Lindy said "oh just do what you want. I can't take it anymore." So, we did and we not only got back in the ballgame, we nearly won it.

Marty and I enjoyed a lot of success together. In the history of the Browns, only Paul Brown and Blanton Collier have a better winning percentage than Marty. Sundays with Marty were fun. God, they were a lot of fun. To be blunt, it wasn't a whole lot of fun getting to Sunday though. It took so much work to get it right.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said; "nothing great in life is ever achieved without enthusiasm." I like to think that although Marty and I, at times, would disagree, our enthusiasm for debate produced great work.

Thanks Marty.


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